Friday, June 27, 2014

A Sampling of Old School Games

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.

The Histocrats support the idea of incorporating board-games into your personal life as well as in the classroom.  As such, we are constantly on the lookout for games that we can play for fun.  Recently, I was able to play different “old school” games, many from my childhood.  Indeed, I spent hours playing Clue and Battleship.  To this day, Clue is one of my favorite games--it hasn't changed over the years and I enjoy it as much today as I did when I was twelve.  Like Clue, some of the games hold up well and are just as fun to play today as twenty or thirty years ago, some not so much. 

Let us take a trip down memory lane.

Perfection, Lakeside
This dexterity and shape recognition game pits players to be the quickest to fit all the shapes into the matching holes in the tray that pops up.  Set the timer, and press down the tray. Are you quick enough to match all 25 shapes before time runs out and the pieces go POP? A snap to learn, Perfection is tough to play.  The board for the game is a 5x5 grid with 25 shapes.

Battleship, Milton Bradley
Each player deploys his ships (of lengths varying from 2 to 5 squares) secretly on a square grid. Then each player shoots at the other's grid by calling a location. The defender responds by "Hit!" or "Miss!". You try to deduce where the enemy ships are and sink them. First to do so wins.  Players call out from 1 to 5 shots at a time depending on the amount of ships the player has left Players each start off with 5 ships, so they start off with 5 shots. As ships are sunk, the players get fewer shots. This version of the game is closer to the original pencil-and-paper public domain game.

Snake Eyes, Selchow & Righter
A casino game that is open to any number of players. The game has levers labeled from one to nine. Initially all the levers are in the 'up' position.  The first player rolls two dice. They then knock down the levers as dice are rolled.  The player's score is the total value of the numbers left uncovered. All the levers are then raised again, and play passes to the next player.

Trial of the Century, Companion Games
A spoof of the legal system, the media, and law & order. Players (as lawyers for the prosecution or defence) attempt to win their case while hindering the case of the other players. The humour comes from the illustrations, and the game mechanics. Based on the O.J. Simpson-trial, complete with a bloody glove card.

Careers, Parker Brothers
Devised by sociologist James Cooke Brown, players have set victory conditions in order to win. A secret "Success Formula" consists of a minimum amount of fame, happiness and money that the player must gain. Players set their own victory conditions before the game begins. Victory points can be obtained more quickly on occupation paths and each has more opportunities for certain types of victory points than others.

Clue, Parker Brothers
For generations, around the world, Mr. Boddy has met his end at the hand of one of six infamous suspects in this family game. As you search the mansion's nine rooms and secret passages, be on the lookout for those murderous suspects. And watch out for those deadly weapons. The mystery changes every time you play. If you can collect the right clues and make the right deductions, you'll solve the mystery and win.

*All product descriptions are from the manufacturer.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Talking Games in the Classroom with Tom Vasel

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.

In May, I attended the Cool Mini or Not Expo in Atlanta and was able to meet Tom Vasel from the Dice Tower, and discuss incorporating games into the classroom.  Vasel is the host of The Dice Tower, a podcast and Youtube channel that reviews and discusses all things boardgames.  He is also a youth pastor and former teacher.  It was his role of gamer and teacher that I sought to talk with him about my own desire to incorporate games into my history classroom.

As a teacher, I am always looking for new ways to bring history to life and have attempted to incorporate games into the classroom.  When I met Vasel, he was playing Rivet Wars: The Eastern Front and was able to share with me ideas and games.  As a former History teacher himself, he talked about playing games with students in his classes.  Among the games he would play were Diplomacy, Race for the White House, Founding Fathers, 1960: The Making of the President, and Democrazy.  These are all games that range from easy to hard, one class period to several. For example, Diplomacy is a complex and long game.  Vasel suggested giving out parts to students and then playing the game, one move a class period over a long period of time.  Therefore, do not give up an entire class period but a small fraction over time. It also allows students to build confidence in their gaming roles and excitement over the next move.  He said it was amazing when students would discuss the game outside of class, especially at lunch. 

With Race for the Whitehouse, Vasel suggested pitting class versus class rather than just groups within one class.  Indeed, using multiple classes and groups would give more of a realistic approach and feel to a true election cycle.  Another game he suggested was Democrazy.  This is a game I have never played but after speaking with Vasel, I am excited to try it out.  In this game, student players would attempt to pass laws which benefit themselves. The laws are either immediate or semi-permanent, and they can have all kinds of different effects.  For example, all players with glasses would get five points, vote cards must be played with the left hand, or some sort of re-evaluation or redistribution of the chips that each player has. The chips are the main way that players score, but their worth fluctuates constantly. On a turn, a player draws a card and then proposes a vote, and this continues until the end card is drawn or the teacher ends the game. 

One inhibitor to incorporating games into the classroom is the cost of the games.  However, Vasel was able to suggest using a document projector and smartboard to play one game as a class.  This is a much cheaper alternative to having to buy multiple games.  Simply project the game on the board and as a class play it.  This is an idea I had never thought of but will suggest it in the future to fellow teachers.

Although I was only able to speak to Vasel for a short time, I must admit it was enormously informative.  Vasel was incredibly nice and accommodating.  Even when folks were trying to hurry him away, he continued to talk with me and even did a quick video to a fellow teacher and gamer on the birth of his son. 

It is obvious that not only does Tom Vasel love games, but he is eager to help teachers use games to get students excited about learning.  Be sure to check out The Dice Tower, it will be well worth your time. 

For more information on The Dice Tower